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Wilderness get much-needed weekend sweep


January 24, 2020

Dan Saletel

Wilderness player Aaron Myers gets heavy pressure from Bismarck's Willie Stauber during Saturday night's game in Cloquet. The Wilderness went 2-0 for the weekend.

Heading into their first weekend at home in 2020, the Minnesota Wilderness were in need of something substantial to happen. They got just that - sweeping Bismarck by 3-2 and 4-0 scores at Northwoods Credit Union Arena. Bismarck had entered the weekend in second place in the Central Division of the North American Hockey League while the Wilderness are mired in fifth and in need of points.

"It's always big to point up points from teams that are ahead of you in the standings," said Wilderness coach Jon Vaillancourt. "I think we have been playing very good hockey the past few weeks. Even in Aberdeen I thought we played well but could not capitalize on offensive opportunities. It's nice to see the boys get rewarded for playing the game the right way."

On Friday night, after giving up the first goal of the game at 7:03 of the first period, the Wilderness reacted by scoring twice in the first period and once in the second period to take a 3-1 lead entering the final period of play. Blake Holmes scored at 11:36 of the first, followed by Ryan Nelson at 18:07. With only 46 seconds remaining in the second, Lewis Crosby scored to make it 3-1. Austin Jouppi scored with 2:57 remaining in the third period for Bismarck, but Kaleb Johnson, the Wilderness goaltender, slammed the door and brought home a first-game win.

Saturday the Wilderness gained two more important points in the standings by shutting out the Bobcats 4-0 as Chikara Hanzawa picked up two goals and Garrett Worth notched a goal and an assist.

Most of the first period on Saturday was scoreless. With 10 seconds remaining, Tyler Watkins knocked home a rebound with assists going to Bram Scheerer and Worth as the Wilderness went up 1-0.

The only goal of the second period was scored by Worth with Bram Scheerer and Watkins adding assists just 1:45 into the period.

Dan Saletel

Nathan Adrian pins Bismarck's Ethan Gauer up against the boards during Saturday night's game at the Northwoods Arena in Cloquet.

Hanzawa took over in the third period by scoring goals at 1:56 and 13:00 to push the lead to 4-0 which was plenty. Johnson was stellar in the nets: making 29 saves and picking up the shutout. Hanzawa, who just recently returned from playing with the Japanese national team in a tournament, was exceptional Saturday night.

"He had an outstanding tournament and I think has returned with a bit more confidence and jump in his stride because of it," Vaillancourt said. "We are really happy with his play and how his line played overall."

Johnson was also exceptional all weekend and finished the two-game series with 56 saves on 58 shots for the Wilderness.

"Kaleb has been outstanding," Vaillancourt said. "I feel that he has grown into his spot as our No. 1 and is consistent for us every night,"

The sweep by the Wilderness puts them at 39 points, which puts them six points behind Minot for fourth place in the Central Division.

They will play at home against the Janesville Jets at 7:05 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25 before playing the Jets in Proctor Sarurday night.


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